piano, piano blog, piano lessons, piano teaching, repertoire

The Piano Primer transition to early repertoire selection

Creative music mentors know innately that NO Primer Package with its sequence of red, blue, and purple levels, A, B, C etc. will meet the needs of most piano students. That’s because each pupil is an individual with unique talents, abilities, strengths and weaknesses which demand a flexible, singularized plan of study.

By example, my student, Liz, age 8, having had about 4 or so months of study, is at the crossroads: from her Primer Method book, (Clark’s Time to Begin) to early repertoire study, and unfortunately, I’ve not found any one collection amidst the vastly published pedagogical materials, that embodies music with ear-catching
melodic/harmonic/structural and synthesized technical value.

This is why I’ll continue to OUT-source this post-Primer journey drawing on pieces from various collections that have been carefully evaluated.

Repertoire transition


Flashback REFERENCE: Liz’s music-learning journey in its earliest stages





In the following two videos (Part 1 and 2), I begin by summarizing my pupil’s journey to the present, describing the creative excursions we’ve made, since I refuse to be regimented by any piano METHOD, but instead I use the basic material as a SPRINGBOARD to self-realizing CREATIVE activities.

Composing, transposing, etc. have been well-integrated into lessons, along with theory and harmonic analysis on a very fundamental level. Since this student has unusual cognitive and affective abilities that are combined with her natural musical instincts, her path might be carved differently from those of other students with an altered set of gifts and capacities.

Finally, in my TWO Part tutorial or overview, I’ve drawn on the works of Kabalevksy, Gillock, Tansman, Paciorkiewicz, Lubarsky, Poole, Beyer, but also recommend a host of composers for this early bridge to repertoire study. The list includes Turk, Gurlitt, Reinagle, Peskanov, Randall and Nancy Faber, Rebikov, Bartok, et al.


Gillock is a particular favorite!

Here are further Gillock samples played by various Beginner level piano students, including infusions of my instruction: (I think Level 2 is misapplied to ACCENT on Gillock–Blue, as many of the pieces in this collection can be taught to students not rigidly categorized)


My Gillock inspired concert for Aiden cat:


Many teachers will add to the mix, a big serving of modern, jazz style works by contemporary LIVING composers that add a spicy dimension to an enriched musical adventure.

In this example, Fritz plays a well-known Boogie, and then plays his own composition!

DUET playing

The teacher/student duet playing experience is also invaluable in this post Primer transition as evidenced by some of these older videos with relevant samples. (This particular student, Fritz, age 8, had a potpourri of repertoire experiences)

A Primer flashback sample duet from Faber Piano Adventures:

The Repertoire-based journey should be fun, enlightening and packed with enticing musical adventures if selected pieces are the right fit for the student.

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Approaching a brand new piece with spirit and emotion

When piano students first encounter a fresh page of music, they will often wade through the notes as best as they can, fumbling here and there without an adjusted framing pulse or investment of animated interest in what the notes are saying beyond their humble, accurate identity.

In this early stage “reading,” tempo is usually far too brisk (and erratic) for the new learner to experience any emotional response to a cascade of dizzying dots and beams. They are consumed with finding the right pitches and nailing them down.

For this reason, I insist that my pupils separate hands, and slow down the pulse to frame a “deep” in the keys, mood-matching connection to a new score because every playing registers a profound imprint in their consciousness. So throw away trials that breeze over the character of a given composition only divert the learner from the essence of the new composition.

By example, I’m working with a student who’s enraptured by the intensely rhythmic and bi-tonal energy of Kabalevsky’s “Clowns,” yet there’s the same propensity to overlook the character/mood of this piece in the initial hit or miss the notes, baby-step learning process.

A changed perspective:

In this video sample, the student takes the right approach, working assiduously on the first section, paying attention to spring forward staccato releases, and notated accents that he manages in a slow tempo framing. It allows him to capture the “feeling” and emotion imbued in this miniature. Naturally, his being “connected” to the circus atmosphere of “Clowns” from the very start makes his learning engagement deeper and more satisfying.

Since Kabalevsky’s two-page composition has notable harmonic patterns, symmetries, agogic accents, inverted motifs, ostinato bass, etc. these present an opportunity to examine theoretical context as an aid to interpretation, noting that no dimension of learning is a pedantic side bar.

Every examination of a piece becomes part of an integrated whole, of which the very first note ignites a rich emotional, cognitive and kinesthetic experience.

Clowns play through:

Early “Clowns” lesson with my student in London, England (first section)

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 1

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 2

Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano addict

A surprise visit by a lost kitten…

After “Feather” (by his name tag) had a feast of delights wandering from room to room, he was fetched by his owner who lived about a mile away.

Apparently, this little one has been lost and found several times since his birth. I’m told his mother might be a neighbor of mine, who lives down the block. (Kitty is searching for her and his sibs–He’s from a litter of 3)

MUSIC on video: “A Game” by Kabalevsky

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Piano Lesson: Teaching “GAME” by Kabalevsky, Op. 39 Children’s Pieces (Videos)

Vibrant musical miniatures are learning enticements for piano students.

In this spirit, Dimitry Kabalevsky, a Twentieth Century Russian composer, shines in his collection of Children’s Pieces (Op.39) that run the gamut of emotions, from sad expressions of human nature, “Waltz” (in d minor) to ebullient centerpieces, such as “Clowns,” and “Galop.” (spelled with one L)

“Game” aka “Playing” is one of the more lighthearted ones in Op. 39 It embodies the art of playing staccato in an economy of measures.(Kabalevsky, Director of his own music school in Russia, imbued technique and musicianship skills by vehicle of his own compositions)

In “Game,” crisp articulations should be “shaped” to avoid tedium and one dimensional vertical playing. (Exploring Harmonic Rhythm gives insights on phrasing and helps clarify points of tension and resolution) I have students play through chords on every scale degree of Bb Major to familiarize them with tonality.

Blocking out broken chord outlines is another good learning springboard. The player becomes aware of Dominant/tonic relationships. (Lean to taper effect) And a Vi chord realized horizontally suggests a twinge of emotion, because it’s unexpected.

I also recommend playing through the piece in LEGATO initially to clarify phrasing. (It’s otherwise easy for staccato notes to sound like rosy the riveter working on a B52 bomber)

In the video below, I discuss the analogy of story-telling since “Game” has a programmatic title. (i.e. the composer’s extra musical component is intrinsic to interpretation) To this end, the student is asked to build the melodic line to “climax,” and then gradually taper it. In addition, she interweaves the story structure of a BEGINNING, MIDDLE, and END.

My own recording of “GAME,” uploaded more than a year ago, was taken at brisk tempo, though I advised my student to observe a more conservative “Allegretto.”

Nonetheless, my quicker reading conforms with the composer’s annotation that he wanted his piece played in ONE.. (i.e. one impulse per measure) The type of staccato I enlisted, incidentally, was NOT the Vertical Woodpecker variety. It was more of a wrist-shaped, articulation that I believe best served the music.

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The Joy of Teaching Piano to Young Children (Videos)

Starting a very young child on a musical journey is joyful, exciting and challenging. The first baby steps taken at the piano will be memorable for both teacher and student, so careful thought and preparation are needed.

At the very outset, I believe in nurturing an awareness of the singing tone and how it is created. In the most fortunate circumstance a child has a real acoustic piano to practice on at home in order to experiment with various tonal shades, timbres, “colors” that we explore at our lesson. This consciousness of what the instrument can elicit as we tap into the imagination and inhabit a universe of sound exploration, requires attentive and sensitive listening. This is where the teacher can be the magical guide. At this crucial point of engagement, lessons can take off in positive directions and bond the student to the whole creative musical process.

Singing is an activity universal to childhood and a teacher who taps into this celebration of musical expression, will go a long way toward imbuing what the singing tone is about as it applies to the piano. The goal will be to teach a child to “sing” through his fingers and shape a phrase as he or she would vocalize it.

Learning hand position formation is important at the beginning of study, and it is not rigid but gently round, with curved, not curled fingers. The teacher can gently nudge the student in a relaxed physical direction by suggesting the light embrace of a ripe plum in his palm. The consequences of squeezing it too tightly will be amusing to the child, but well taken.

While materials such as Faber Piano Adventures provide great launching pads for formal piano study, it is the teacher who has to translate all the notes and symbols in these primer method books into a language comprehensible to a child and his universe of play. The playground as music teacher is certainly a concept that applies to the piano lesson and its content for very young children.

Staccato notes suggest lighthearted images: students often imagine that they are bouncing on a trampoline, or listening to popcorn pop. They will spontaneously share an activity that is suggestive of crisp, detached, staccato notes. Run with it and enjoy!

When teaching the legato, (smooth and connected) singing tone, images of gliding on ice, floating clouds, rolling waves, inspire children to play expressively and not hammer out notes in a mechanical way. The flexible, “spongy” wrist is the great shock absorber, and it should be demonstrated as well as modeled.

To imbue a sense of a steady beat, the teacher can guide the student along with a very buoyant motion of her hands and arms, and NOT refer to a clock, or metronome. After all, the beat is a frame for the music which can bend with the breeze as phrases taper to their conclusion. It is never static and stultifying. Animated clapping exercises shared back and forth between teacher and student are always helpful.

There is a joy to teaching very young children, because imaginations can happily run wild and create a very exciting, inspiring space that both teacher and student can inhabit.

Kirsten Productions: Aviva Kirsten, video editor


Cat related:
Aiden makes another appearance in this video:

Other Related:



For Toddlers and pre-schoolers before piano study is undertaken:


American Orff-Schulwerk Association - Music and Movement Education
Music and movement teachers find in the Orff Schulwerk a total approach to fostering creativity and conveying musical knowledge and skills.


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Piano Instruction: Favorite Children’s Pieces (Video)

I’ve highlighted three favorite children’s pieces by Dimitri Kabalevsky and Robert Schumann that are very catchy, colorful and harmonically engaging.

They fall into the category of programmatic music because the character of the compositions match the titles.

Even though Schumann and Kabalevsky dedicated their compositions to a youthful generation, the music is quite sophisticated and can be studied by adults as well as children.

The selections chosen are Kabalevsky’s “Clowns” and “Gallop,” as well as Schumann’s “Wild Rider.”

Kabalevsky was a 20th Century Russian Composer who was Director of a music school in his native country where he composed pieces for his students and developed their technical/musical skills.

“Clowns is a bi-tonal composition, alternating “A” Major and “A” minor thirds in step-wise motion in the right hand treble, while the Left Hand has a redundant bass pattern known as an “ostinato,” in staccato (short and crisp)

The middle “B” section is in F Major with the melody inverted, but still in bi-tonality.
Kabalevsky indicated a much softer dynamic in this section.

A bridge of 16ths notes in “A” minor, brings the piece gracefully back to the opening theme as a CLIMAX in a FORTE dynamic, with a Coda providing a definitive conclusion.

“Gallop” is an energetic selection that sounds like horses in motion. The challenge is to master the Left and Right parts with attention to separate note groupings in each. The Left hand opens with split chords in slurs of TWO while the right hand has FIVE notes in one phrase mark above. (The A section)

The middle or “B” section is more rhythmically straightforward and is easier to coordinate between the hands because the Bass is punctuated in 8ths while the Right treble has quarters over these. (No mismatched slurs or articulations)

The “A” section then returns, and ends the piece.

The final piece showcased is Schumann’s “Wild Rider” from his “Album for the Young.”
The composer was associated with the Romantic era (expressive) of music composition (early to late 19th Century) and produced a vast array of solo pieces for many different instruments as well as orchestra.

The Album for the Young has many lyrical selections alongside lively works.
“Wild Rider” is a picturesque miniature evoking a horseman in motion and its harmonic scheme in the bass gives rise to the melody which is a series of crisp broken chord patterns outlining tonic, sub-dominant and dominant harmonies.

The staccato articulations enhance the mood throughout the piece which has an “A” minor opening “A” section followed by a “B” section in F Major (topsy turvy voices) Then it returns to the opening section in “A” minor.

Both Kabalevsky pieces, along with the Schumann selection offered, are treasured the world over by teachers and students, because of their beauty, and their technical challenges. They provide wonderfully enriching repertoire for late beginners and others who are advancing in their studies.